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Nicholas Primrose
Nicholas Primrose
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Do Playgrounds Really Have Rules?

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Do you really know if the playgrounds that your children play on at school are safe? Did you even know there are some very clear rules and guides that should be followed by your local school board to minimize and protect your children? Did you know that approximately 200,000 injuries occur annually on public playgrounds?

In Florida, public schools are guided by the State Requirement for Educational Facilities (SREF) as the uniform standards and guidelines for all public schools in almost every aspect of their operation, including the playgrounds. There are many rules regarding playgrounds, but a few may stand out of importance. First, elementary schools should have a designated “Kindergarten” playground, but even more specifically, that playground are “shall be separated from other play area,” “fenced a minimum of 4 feet,” and “directly accessed from the Kindergarten classrooms.” (See SREF Section 5.1) This is important because children of Pre-K and Kindergarten age are susceptible to wandering and injury if they are not monitored and protected from fall risks.

The second important rule from the SREF is that all playgrounds and playground equipment shall be designed and installed using the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, authored by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission. This handbook was first created in 1981 as a guide to make public playgrounds safer and create unity among public schools. In 1993, the handbook released its first standards for playground equipment. And in 2008, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission revised the standards based on the ASTM F15 Playground Committee. ASTM International creates standards for practically every aspect of live, including test methods, product safety and quality guidelines, and best practices. The organization utilizes experts and professionals in different business aspects to determine the best practices and is highly regarded as a leader in voluntary standards.

The Handbook provides in great detail recommendations for every piece of playground equipment one might find at their child’s school. One of the most important consideration for any parent is that the playground at their child’s school contains equipment that is “age appropriate.”

Vertical Sliding Pole

The Handbook even lists examples of appropriate equipment, ex. For preschool (2-5 years) ramps, slides, swings with belts (or full bucket seats), and merry-go-rounds are appropriate, but spiral slides or vertical sliding poles are not! Here are some important considerations when determining if the playground your child plays on at school is safe:


(1) Ground Surface – the surface underneath the equipment should be shock absorbing and be of a minimum fill depth to cushion and protect your child if they do fall. Certain materials are recommended: sand, wood chips, recycled rubber mulch). Check to make sure the ground surface material is at least 9 inches thick to provide the greatest protection in case of a fall.

(2) Entrapment – make sure that the playground equipment does not have openings that could create an entrapment issue with either a child’s head or body parts. Openings between 3.5 inches and 9 inches can create a hazard, especially when your children may not necessarily understand the risks of putting their heads between bars/gates.

(3) Heights – the greatest harm to your child is the height of the equipment they are playing on. Each piece of playground equipment has a recommended height threshold. For example, the balance beam for pre-K children should be no more than 12 inches off the ground. And be very careful with monkey bars. The Handbook points out that many children do not have the required upper-body strength to safely make it across monkey bars/overhead rings. Not only do monkey bars have height restrictions, but also measure the width between the bars and the height of the “take-off/landing” platforms.

Monkey Bars (Horizontal Ladder)

Playground injuries can be prevented. One thing you as a parent or guardian can do to protect your child while at recess, is go out to the playground during the weekend or summer time and measure the equipment. Make sure it meets the age appropriate guidelines outlined in the Handbook. Make sure that the school has a policy that dictates which playgrounds your child is allowed to play on and most importantly, make sure that a teacher or adult is always supervising your child when using the playground equipment. Finally, be vocal with your school, either by contacting the principal or School Board members – your child’s safety, especially when entrusting them to a school, is more important than letting clear violations go unanswered.

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    Great article. We have this question come up frequently with parents.